I’m about to marry childlike curiosity. It’s wonderful.
At first, when I met my fiancé her curiosity drove me insane. She’d literally ask me over coffee dates what the table is made of. I’d say “wood.” She’d say “where from?” I’d say “a forest.” She’d say “which forest?” I’d say the only forest name I know from memory: “Amazon.”
This game would continue. By nightfall we’d be discussing what bugs might eat the wood our humble cafe table is made from.
Over time, I realized the issue wasn’t her curiosity. The issue was my curiosity had been almost entirely vaporized. I used to have that childlike curiosity. We all used to have higher levels of curiosity as children.
So what changed? Well, life silenced our curiosity. Curiosity helps us go outside the rules, but society wants us to play within the rules.
Corporations tell us to stop thinking and focus on revenue. Netflix has numbed our brains with endless tv shows so we don’t have time to be curious after work. Global travel is still mostly shut down (unless you’re a billionaire), so curiosity can’t be discovered in new places and by immersing ourselves in new culture.
It’s not that our curiosity has been shut down. It’s that our curiosity muscle hasn’t done a lot of reps for a long time. Curiosity is extremely healthy and helps you solve problems differently.
“If you take the fundamental things that people tend to want out of life — strong social relationships and happiness and accomplishing things — all of these are highly linked to curiosity.”
— Todd Kashdan, author of the book Curious
Here’s how to rejuvenate your curiosity.
Get a new stupidly crazy hobby
I am about to get married. One of my biggest fears is a stale marriage. My partner and I decided to get ahead of this grim reality many couples fall into when they let curiosity die.
We made a list of crazy hobbies we could take up, then immediately tried them. Next weekend we go rollerblading at a roller rink. As a teenager, I was a master rollerblader. I started blading down footpaths, then roller rinks. Eventually I ended up skating halfpipes. It’s a crazy hobby for a discombobulated skinny guy. But I got good at it.
My partner and I also tried salsa dancing. Getting my Latino freak on has been a blast. We’ve been taking salsa classes with the help of Youtube videos. I started out terrible. Now I can do whole dances. Dancing has helped make me feel happy while figuring out my life after quitting my job.
Weird fact: Podcaster and author Tim Ferriss first became well-known when he broke world records in Tango (similar to Salsa dancing) back in 2005, by exploring his own curiosity. This strange new hobby led him into the mysterious world of becoming, and later, studying high-performers.
Send ten ideas to a stranger
Writer James Altucher taught me this curiosity trick. Write down ideas for other people and then email the list to them. Remove any expectation of a response or action stemming from the ideas.
I did this recently with an employee of a company I respect. Every day I’ve been writing down ideas for how they could improve their social media platform. Each idea always starts like this: “What if…”
An email came back today. They’ve been reading my ideas and found one they like. Now they’re going to take action on it. Guess what? When they work on the idea they will think of me. And when they do, the relationship with them will grow stronger. Strong relationships produce happiness.
Become a hostage negotiator
Curious people like my fiancé ask a lot of questions. So do hostage negotiators. Practice asking more questions. Don’t just ask someone how they are. Ask them what bizarre things they’ve seen. Get them to tell you about wild experiences from their line of work.
Every question takes you into a mini Alice in Wonderland.
Questions are how you learn about other people. And when you do, you tap into their individual wisdom based on their life experience. This wisdom can help you solve problems that remove roadblocks to happiness.
If your brain has to do all the thinking, it’s exhausting. Why not use questions to tap into someone else’s brain and vacuum out the answers from their head?
Start and finish books without giving a damn
I never read fiction books.
Part of the reason is that I’m a writer. I’m always looking for things to write about and made-up stories are not ones I can quote or reference. When my curiosity is dying, I’ve found fiction helps open my mind back up. While fiction books are made-up, they help to kickstart your imagination. My favorite is Harry Potter books. In Harry Potter, nothing is too far-fetched. There are no rules.
The crazier, the better. Imagine we lived life like this. We can.
Books help us be more curious but the number we can read before we die is limited. Books are mini-marathons. I discovered by following advice from Naval Ravikant, that when I remove the requirement to finish a book, my curiosity opens right up.
I start and finish books like a madman. I take an insight from one chapter, a sentence from another, and sometimes I just read the title, subtitle, and blurb and then quit the book.
When books become disposable you can read more of them. When you do, your ability to let curiosity guide you takes over. Having curiosity be in control is wonderfully unpredictable and brings joy.
Do what the stoics did
Stoic philosophers are famous for their obsession with walking. Walking is a form of meditation that brings your curious mind back to the present.
I decided to walk more a year ago. The biggest mistake I made was walking with podcasts blaring in my ears. After reading about the power of walking from philosophy, I ditched the earbuds and walked in silence.
I try not to walk the same route. I let curiosity guide my walk. I riff on thoughts and do tonnes of mental improv. My best ideas have come from these walks. Walks stimulate curiosity and the movement of your legs acts as an anchor to awaken your imagination.
If you really want to unleash your curiosity then practice this exercise:
Consider who might have walked this same path in the centuries before you. Consider the person who paved the asphalt you are standing on. Where are they now? What did they believe? What problems did they have? — Ryan Holiday
Once you return from a walk you feel quiet joy.
Take a time machine back to childhood
As a child, I loved the game Mariokart. Traveling around a fantasy world on a go-kart took me away from the torture of anxiety that I faced.
Recently, I allowed my curiosity to let me download Mariokart for iPhone. I sat down and played a few rounds. It took me straight back to childhood. Gliding down rainbows, venturing into haunted houses, and cruising the streets of a highly glamorized version of Los Angeles was wonderful. The only regret is I didn’t do this sooner. When we time travel back to childhood, we are reminded of where we came from. And when you know where you came from, it helps to guide you in the present.
An odd experience happened after playing Mariokart. My brain quietly said, “You’ll be playing this game with your own children in a few years.”
All of a sudden the present made sense. The fear of my upcoming marriage subsided. That’s the subtle power of childlike curiosity to help the present make sense, and add joy.
Hire for curiosity
Being around a curious person at work is a great way to spark it in yourself. Maybe you own a business. Or maybe you are a leader who manages a team. Or perhaps you simply get to be on the panel that helps hire people.
Traditionally when hiring, companies look for experience and skills. I say screw that. I’d rather a curious employee with an open mind, than a person who says they have five years’ experience, when it’s simply one year’s experience repeated five times.
As a hiring manager, I’ve loved hiring curious people and saying no to the candidates who think they know it all. Curious employees always seem to find better solutions to business problems.
Doing the unexpected because of curiosity is a hugely profitable business.
“Learning is by nature, curiosity” — Plato
If you want to dumb this whole curiosity experiment down then commit to learning. Take what you think you know and relearn it. In the process, you’ll discover some of what you know is faulty thinking. Curiosity will help you replace this bad programming with new improved learnings from your creative experiments.
Dabble. Experiment. Learn. Relearn. Read. Go back to childhood. Find a new hobby. Walk to enhance your curiosity.
Curiosity is happiness because it rewires your brain.